The South’s physical distance from the rest of the island, meant that the ancient kingdom of Ruhunu (or Rohana) – a name still often used to describe the region – evolved into one of the heartlands of traditional Sinhalese culture.
The region’s varied attractions make it one of Sri Lanka’s most rewarding areas to visit. A gateway to the South – and one of its highlights – is the atmospheric old port of Galle, Sri Lanka’s best-preserved colonial town, while beyond Galle stretch a string of picture-perfect beaches including Unawatuna, Weligama, Mirissa and Tangalla. Nearby, the little-visited town of Matara, with its quaint Dutch fort, offers a further taste of Sri Lanka’s colonial past, while ancient Tissamaharama makes a good base from which to visit two of the country’s finest national parks: the placid lagoons and birdlife-rich wetlands of Bundala, and Yala, famous for its elephants and leopards. Udawalawe National Park is home to a large resident population of wild Asian elephants. In addition, it is one of the best places for bird watching. . If you wish you can visit the Elephant Transit Home en route to Yala. The South is also famous for whale watching in Mirissa and visiting the turtle hatchery Beyond Tissamaharama lies the fascinating religious centre of Kataragama, whose various shrines are held sacred by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims alike.